Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama like King? No such thing.

I received a wonderful e-mail from my man Mel Reeves about MLK and Barack which is cut and paste worthy. My man usually writes over at the web site blackagenda report, and he is always on point. Now I don't agree with everything he says in this essay, but I do agree with his point about King's speech and how it has been misinterpreted by most A-merry-cans.

**This picture of King was taken while he was announcing in 1967, that he wouldn't be seeking the presidency of these "Divided States". Mmmm, if he did run, I wonder how many votes he would have gotten? **

"The presidential candidacy of Barack Obama has spawned lots of banter about Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday the country recently observed. Obama has been mentioned in the same breath as King, as the fulfillment and embodiment of the civil rights leaders’ dream. Obama’s supposed symbolism is misleading and represent gross misrepresentations of the truth.

So let me take a moment to set the record straight.

Now when we consider the idea of Obama as the fulfillment of Kings’ dream we should refer to the great one himself. In his now popular, “I have a dream,” speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington, King elucidated his vision of things to come.

“I have a dream,” proclaimed King; “that this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal,’”… that, “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,”… that, “even the state of Mississippi, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice”… and that, “my four children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The fulfillment of Kings vision has yet to come to pass. Even Obama admitted as much last Sunday in a speech at King’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta . Obama, explained that, “for most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.”

However, the talk about the Senator’s possible election as president of the US as culmination of the civil rights movement reveals a popular misconception about King and a misreading of his most popular speech. It exposes how few people actually read the entire text. (If they had it wouldn’t be so popular) Because within it lies a radical critique of US society and a clarion call to continue the struggle. It is not the innocuous pablum, which the revisionists have assigned to it.

In actuality, King’s vision was about collective progress, not individual progress. Obama rightly pointed out during the South Carolina debate that MLK would probably not have endorsed either candidate including Obama. Obama is right King would not endorse anyone who was tied to the power structure, which he saw as the source of our problems as people (black, white, Latin, Asian, Native, women, etc.).

Obama --no matter how folks want to see him-- is still indeed tied to this social/economic/ political system and does not represent a break from the power structure. This is true despite his misleading and disingenuous mantra of “change” and “hope.” Recognizing this, the human rights leader would have viewed the idea of Obama winning the presidency not as a sign of the advancement of the race, but as nothing more than tokenism.

King enlightened us on the problem of tokenism in his essay “The Sword that Heals.”

“Still another technique had begun to replace the old methods for thwarting the Negroes’ dreams and aspirations. This is the method known as tokenism…Tokenism is a promise to pay. Democracy in its finest sense is payment. The Negro wanted to feel pride in his race. With tokenism the solution was simple. If all twenty million Negroes would keep looking at Ralph Bunche [insert Obama] the one man in so exalted a post would generate such a volume of pride that it could be cut into portions and served to everyone. A judge here and a judge there, an executive behind a polished desk, a high government administrator all these were tokens used to obscure the persisting reality, and discrimination.

Those who argue in favor of tokenism point out that we must begin somewhere; that it is unwise to spurn any breakthrough, no matter how limited. There is a critical distinction, however, between a modest start and tokenism. Its [tokenism] purpose is not to begin a process, but instead to end the process of protest and pressure. It is a hypocritical gesture not a constructive first step.”

Enough said!

Ironically, Obama’s race is merely a smoke screen making it harder for folks to see who and what he really represents. But in the process of fooling folks he is also standing the history and intent of the Civil Rights movement on its head. He is accomplishing this through revision and inference. "

OK Mel, I hear you, now be prepared to back up your musings. Because I just know that these folks in the fields will have something to say as well.


Jonne Austin said...

First of all, I would really like to go back and read all of the speech, because I have long heard that there was a hell of a lot more to MLK that revisionists don't want us to know about, but it gets put on the back burner.

Secondly, I'm gathering that this brother may be an independent himself? If I am correct in that assumption I could see why he is distrusting of even a democrat, regardless of his race or the fact that he is a positive representation for and to blacks.

I kind of dig what he is saying but my direction is different.

Does he really represent hope and change, real hope and change? From reading his policies and history, he is on the right track but for me real hope and change would come in the form of someone who is 100% grassroots, no fancy suits, not willing to keep his mouth shut no matter how much the white folks or black folks may get offended, that's real change. That's something this country hasn't seen in a long time.

But he is on a right track, and from reading his policies I would definitely go for him.

As for tokenism, again I see that point but I don't think he is some puppet fool to it.

Yes if he wins president, many white folks and others will argue that we are 100% even and to "quit yer bitchin'" but right now I don't think that calling him a token is fair just yet.

Anonymous said...

Enough said!

Ironically, Obama’s race is merely a smoke screen making it harder for folks to see who and what he really represents. But in the process of fooling folks he is also standing the history and intent of the Civil Rights movement on its head. He is accomplishing this through revision and inference. "

If Obama's run for the whitehouse is a smoke screen, as Mel Reeves believes, then what’s his thoughts on these former candidates.

Shirley Chisolm, Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson, Allen Keyes, and Al Sharpton.

Obama is just one black man in a long list of those who have tried to break through the ceiling of presidential politics. For him to simply focus or appeal to a particular group as many of these former candidates have done would be detrimental to his candidacy. To imply that his brand of politics is nothing more than a “smoke screen” because it’s viable is disingenuous.

What would Mel Reeves have Obama do if he were advising him?...beat the black drum. Do politics as usual and be the angry black man. Would he repackage Barack as a unleaded version of Al Sharpton.

Anonymous said...

It's disengenuous to call him a token, especially when you consider that while other more lucrative options were available to Obama he chose to become a community organizer.

That doesn't smack of tokenism in my mind...may be calculating.

field negro said...

"Obama is just one black man in a long list of those who have tried to break through the ceiling of presidential politics. For him to simply focus or appeal to a particular group as many of these former candidates have done would be detrimental to his candidacy. To imply that his brand of politics is nothing more than a “smoke screen” because it’s viable is disingenuous."

francis, there is the "Catch22" for Obama supporters. There is no way he can win the office of the presidency without appealing to a large group of A-merry-cans who don't even want to hear about race. And yet, by appealing to those people, he runs the risk of coming offf as phony to true believers and independent thinkers, like I am guessing mel is.

seattle slim, I co-sign with your observations. The"O" man seems to be on th right track. I certainly think it would be unfair to hold him to a higher standard than any of the other candidates just because he is black.

But I am taking a wait and see attitude. Something still doesn't feel quite right about the "O" man to me.

Anonymous said...

This article sums up what I have been saying on this blog for a while now. Obama does not represent anything new in politics. It is a misreading of King and the history of race in this society to think that all our hopes and dreams can be posited in one man. Hell, he is not remotely interested in lifting up the dregs of society. His allegiance will go to corporate interests and the military industrial complex. Why is it so hard for black people to be critical thinkers in this world. One reason is that we accept simplistic and romantic views that offer no nuance. A critique of any candidate is just that,a critique not a put down. Critical thinking skills are a lost art in this country and I have witnessed so many black folk claim that Obama represents something new. He has hope and change on his side. What do those things really mean? Yes, I would like to see him win, but his time in the office serves a purpose that will not aid the black community no matter how in love they are with him. I caution all blacks to dig a little deeper when thinking about politics and race in this country. Also, I really wish everyone would also remember the civil rights movement began when the first slaves left the shores of Africa, and to compress all our history into one individual like MLK is to deny the struggle of far too many black people in our sojourn here in America.

Anonymous said...

Thinkaboutit you are getting at my point. While I don't support big business candidates, that is Democrats of Republicans if I did I would probably support Obama but with my eyes wide open.

But I don't do politics like that to answer Seattle Slim I am an independent and to be even more honest I come from that thread of folks who doesn't believe capitalism has much to offer the black man/women or any working person for that matter.

What's wrong with voting for our real self interests even if we can get it we should still demand rather than toying with the ruling classes candidates who despite their rhetoric have not intention on really representing us.

Anonymous said...

"Why is it so hard for black people to be critical thinkers in this world. One reason is that we accept simplistic and romantic views that offer no nuance."

Thinkabout it: Think about this: Be careful in making generalizations about black people's thinking. We are not a monolithic people. No black people I know thinks Obama is a Dr. King for the same reason Mel suggests: Dr. King believed that politicians had neither the moral fortitude nor the political will to confront this nation's propensity to engage in bloody wars abroad while starving its own people at home in the wealthiest country in the world. Further, King believed that direct action, not tokenism, was the only way to restructure the priorities of this country.

The black people I know recognize that Obama is no King, that neither Obama or Clinton is their savior, that the Democratic party is wedded to the same multi-nationall corporations as the Republicans but are just slicker at it. They know all that, but still they are proud of Obama for at least trying to get into a position to do what he can.

And they know something else that white people, especially corporate media pundits (not even Keith Olberman) will admit: Whie people is not ready for a black president-- not even one who has practically tried to disavow race.

Think about that.

Anonymous said...

We tend romanticize our view about any leader because we want to see them in a somewhat of a superhuman light. As I learned more about Martin Luther King, Jr. I come to understand him as a complex individual. I do not believe Obama misrepresents MLK anymore than the people who previously commented misrepresents him either. King does start out with an ideology that becomes more radical as time passes and changes his focus with a poor people's campaign (not every black person benefited from the Civil Rights Movement) and moves the movement from the south to the north, however, by that time the movement began to weaken as well. King did not believe in equal rights for women and this one of his complexities. King was a man of his time just as W.E.B DuBois (who also became very radical in the latter years of his life). Obama sees the early King, and some of us see the latter King. King had his concessions as well. The movement did not move up in the north because the organization accepted money from northern philanthropists as long as the movement stayed confined to the south, and it does hurt King with the failure of the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966.

Another concession was cutting of his ties the Bayard Rustin probably one of the most influential figures of the civil rights movements who was responsible for organizing the march on Washington, and counseling King. Rustin was openly gay and had communists affiliations, and many civil rights activists at the time thought he would be not good for the movement despite the fact the he and George Houser organized the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, the first of the freedom rides. He also proposed the march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the armed forces, but was canceled after FDR issued and executive order that banned discrimination in defense industries and federal bureaus which one could see as a good compromise depending on one's perspective.

Before anyone sends me a comment, I not stating that King was not pivotal to the movement in the 1950s because he, and due to fortuitous events with African nation becoming independent during that time, it is hard press for U.S to justify the treatment of its black citizens while wanting to set up trade with these countries. Can't very well tell the President of Sudan that the hotel does not accommodate colored people. There are economics factors to consider one of the reasons why the movement doesn't become prominent until the mid-50s and not the 30s and 40s.

Here is my point, Obama is not a King, but there is something that he wants us to do. He his invoking us to make social change. He cannot become a messiah for us because if anyone noticed that at King's assassination, the movement fell apart and no one else since has taking that role. The question becomes what are we willing to do. Whether you like it or not, Obama managed to bring forth a grassroots efforts in which I have not seen in years, and it will be the people to impact change and Obama can be the agent. That is the way I see, so it's not what Obama can do for us, what are we going to do. I also recall, that a lot of black people did not support King either.

Anonymous said...

"The question becomes what are we willing to do."

I agree. But one of the things we need to do is stop encapsulating Dr. King in time by referencing his "I have a dream" speech. I know it was his most famous speech, but his true courage, his most developed social philosophy was shown when he gave the speech called "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," on August 4, 1967 at the height of the Vietnam war. That's where he made a scathing indictment of our involvement in the Vietnam war and a comprehensive analysis of the US, policies which came down to wars abroad and starving its people of much-needed services at home. Some conspiracy theorists say this is when people decided it was time for King to die, because this speech marked his acencion from leader in black's quest for complete civil rights to a leader of international stature in the fight to end the Vietnam war and change the US approach to foreign policy.

If we're going to start some place, especially if we're going to start about grassroots movement, we shouldn't start with Barack. When you think about it critically, he's just another centrist politician. Dr. King was an outside-the-box critical thinker and social activist who was not only criticizing our misplaced economic priorities but something else just as import: Our values of super individualis, greedy materialism and warped sense of violence, both abroad and at home.

He was the first person I ever read to say that violence has actually become a value to us, a kind way of saying that some of love that shit; and not just on videos games.

If we start with Dr. King's idea of our government's misplaced priorities and the necessity of direct action to do something about it, we'll look to each other for change, and not any politician.

Anonymous said...

This is a little off your subject, but there are people like me, who you might identify as white establishment-types (or may be even, gasp, Republicans), who like Obama.

I like the honesty, which is glaring next to his principle opponent(s).

As things stand, given the opportunity, I'll vote for him.

Here's a link, from 2004, which you may (or may not) like:

Christopher Chambers said...

In this consumer/sound byte/retardssociety, symbolism IS important. Imagine taking the oath of office in a Capitol Building built by slaves, and feet from where slave coffles trundled to the docks over to Alexandria Va for the trip to New Orleans?

Powerful shit.

The problem lay in the feeling among the dumbasses and the folk who want to keep all of us (black white, brown etc.) dumb that this is yes, the culmination of the much mis-used Dream speech. The speech is as much a punchline hook or advertising tag these days...

Lola Gets said...

Off-topic, but I wanted to give you a ^5 Field for your choice of House Negro of the Day. Brothaman has really and truly mucked-up. But from what I read, hed been doing it all his career. Perhaps old habits are hard to break?? Still, man, dont use public property to conduct your affairs. Use your own cell phone!


Lola Gets said...

Off-topic again, sorry. Field, come on over to my blog the next few days cause Im writing all about my appearance in a Washington Post Article! Complete with pictures and everything! Yea!


field negro said...

"Here is my point, Obama is not a King, but there is something that he wants us to do. He his invoking us to make social change. He cannot become a messiah for us because if anyone noticed that at King's assassination, the movement fell apart and no one else since has taking that role. The question becomes what are we willing to do. Whether you like it or not, Obama managed to bring forth a grassroots efforts in which I have not seen in years,"

But hennasplace, is Obama's movement really "grassroots"? Or is it just made up of well mjeaning white people(like jim)and black foks who already have theirs but would love the symbolism of a black prez. like chris said?

"If we're going to start some place, especially if we're going to start about grassroots movement, we shouldn't start with Barack."

I tend to agree with Macdaddy on this one. Real change will have to come from the people who are on te ground and in the neighborhoods working everyday. And from our families wanting to change the dysfunctional way that we have been behaving, and f****g up the future for our children.

Congrats lola. Just remember, I knew you when you were just lola. Don't leave us little folks behind when you go big time :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Field glad we agree on the point about where real change will come from. That's the point where I see that brother Obama's candidacy is misleading. Hillary straight up tried to turn history on its head by implying that LBJ brought about change whereas the reality was all those folks in the streets forced the hand of those in the suites.

Field this is great stuff, we're having real grown up discussions without going off on one another.

And critical thinking too, huh Macdaddy and if you are Mac Walton give a brother a shout out. And since I don't feel threatened by anyone on brother Field's site holler at me at

liberation then peace

The Roving Reporter said...

Obama --no matter how folks want to see him-- is still indeed tied to this social/economic/ political system and does not represent a break from the power structure. This is true despite his misleading and disingenuous mantra of “change” and “hope.”

I do agree with this portion of his commentary. For any politician to make it in the business of politics, you have to play the power game.

Anonymous said...

Well, it appears Evita Clinton is getting trounced.

Sorry, I hate it when people get places because there are related to people who got places. And yes, Patrick Kennedy is a useless pill popper who achieved nothing as a legislator, and only got there because of his last name. Ditto "our" Pres. So this isn't a misogynist thing w/me.

But Field, as a "well meaning white guy" I object to that line of argument as self-reinforcing, and self-defeating. How exactly does one not qualify for that category? Political activists overall trend better educated and thus higher on the economic food chain. The "grassroots" across the board leans that way, and you could make the argument for each and every campaign.

I'm reminded of 2004 and the trashing of us Dean supporters as being exactly your description of Obama supporters. By other campaigns that were effectively the same in makeup. Silly.

Really, the only way to avoid your line of classification would be to be a "bad meaning white person" and working for Romney or something.

Anonymous said...

BTW Field - Re-reading my comment I blurred what you said in a way that could be misinterpreted. You also talked about upscale black people, which was why I dwelled on the socio-econmics of political activists. But by not being explicit it reads like I was making that only about the "white people" part. I was actually covering both points.

Just a point of clarification before I set myself up for a ponunding. I get enough of those at work.

Anonymous said...

Nothing destroys our community faster than this ridiculous "blacker than thou." bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Mac Daddy,
Please, I know black people are not monolithic. My respect and love for my people is not bottled up in a one size fits all approach. SO, do not try to paint that portrait of my comments.

Who is not proud of Obama, but he is not going to change anything concretely in terms of black folks lives locally.

Unknown said...

No matter what you believe, you have to give him credit, he seems to have transcended race in many regards. He has broad support among young white people. While I am not endorsing him at this point, I believe that he is a part of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. He won the primary in South Carolina, a southern state, by an enormous margin. I would certainly not consider him a token. But this is what makes America "great," we can agress to disagree.

Anonymous said...

"...if you are Mac Walton give a brother a shout out. And since I don't feel threatened by anyone on brother Field's site holler at me at"
Yes, Mel: MacDaddy and Mac Walton is one and the same. As a youth counselor, When I was a youth counselor in the 90's, the kids nicknamed me MacDaddy and it stuck.The bar to identify me asks for my nickname. So MacDaddy is what I use.. Yes, i'll holla at ya.

Thinkabout it:

I only responded to a point you made. But, if you're broader point is that we all (African Americans) need to become better critical thinkers, I agree. And I would say this is true for the rest of Americans as well. I would only add that that is not to sayt many of us aren't. Many of us are critical thinkers in our communities, nationally-- in fact, on this blog. That's why I keep coming back to it and read every post written.

SLDC said...

Obama is not a token black. In what sense? I just don't get the author's point.

For one to get ahead in the USA, you have to be part of the power structure. You're not going to come out of nowhere and just take over and become president. Though he is part of the power structure, he is different to the typical politicians who are in that power structure.

Radicals don't get elected. People who take positions at strategic times get elected. And that is what Obama has done. If he is constantly pushing the black agenda or acting like Al Sharpton, he will not get elected.

Obama could have been a lawyer in private practice continuing to make lots of money per year but instead he chose to serve the people via community work and then politics. That should be applauded.

field negro said...

"Nothing destroys our community faster than this ridiculous "blacker than thou." bullshit."

Well, to be honest, I think the whiter than thou bullshit is just as bad ;)

Christopher said...

Fresh on the heals of his victory in the South Carolina primary, comes news that Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama for president, saying he could inspire Americans in the same way her father once did.

"I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."

Kennedy wrote that she wants a president "who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved."

tryexcellence said...

I read various comments on the Huffingtonpost blog about Caroline's endorsement of Barack and its amazing how Clinton supporters are already spinning the endorsement to suggest that it is invalid because: (1) Caroline was too young to know her father, so she can't accurately compare her father to anyone; and (2)Kennedy had alot more experience than does Obama.

These folks won't accept a good and favorable endorsement for what it is.

Anonymous said...

why does barack obama have to be a "king" in order to be considered a worthy candidate for president? these false comparisons are borne of narrowminded thought patterns---the same stuff that keeps people in ruts, and sets us up for disappointment and disillusion. it's analogous to the type of thinking that many children who've lost a parent to death or flat-out abandonment have: "my daddy/mommie was perfect, a saint, my ultimate hero, and no other person will ever compare!" romanticizing an absent parent prevents a person from receiving love from someone new. no, there will NEVER be another martin king, just as there will never be another barack obama. why can't some people just accept that, move on, and allow a NEW person to share their gifts without all the haters, doubters, nay-sayers and crabs crawling out of the woodwork?? why not embrace them both? supporting obama is not being disloyal to king's legacy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Field Negro:

To answer Chris' question, yes it is a grassroots movement that Obama has organized and it makes great political sense as it be more difficult to get the old status quo democratic base that will more than likely vote for the Clintons ticket. There is no question that an Obama presidency will be symbolic and symbolism is very important. Is not the reason why you have a double negative photo of a black man with his black turned is symbolic of a message that you want to convey to the readers of your blog. Of course, the some people looking of your symbol may interrupt a different idea, but six people can look at Jackson Pollack painting, you will get six different perspective as what it means to them. Rosa Parks is a symbol as the mother of the civil rights movement. Now her being the mother civil rights movement is debatable, but a significant role she played is true. People need symbol. Obama could be symbol, but him being competent and brilliant is true. So symbolism is more complexed than on the surface.

Also, there is no question that grassroots start with the people, and I did not suggest that it should start with Barack. I wrote that Barack is invoking the people to act and frankly that is what leaders do. He is just inspiring and motivating the people to act. Civil Rights movement did not come from King it was the people on the ground that did the work. As with Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi who was almost beaten to death and sterilized to honor black Americans' right to vote. Bayard Rustin organizational skills who influenced the civil rights movement and nonviolence philosophy that he counseled King on. I can name countless of individuals on the ground involved with the movement, and doesn't Obama say himself that he cannot do this, that the people will have to take up the challenge? Obama does say that in his speeches and we tend to forget for it.

In addition, this is about a generational shift because there are group of people we have left behind that have talents and contribute to society. I attended a NAACP dinner a couple of years ago, and the median age was 55 in attendance. There is an absent of young people and I cannot entirely blame them for this, and NAACP clearly has a deficiency with communicating and recruiting the next generation. Obama is doing a very smart thing by enacting and enlisting the forgotten group of young people thereby giving them a voice because it something that the old guard civil rights leaders forgot or refuse to do. Then what happens when they all die, there will be no one to pick up the torch. That really angers me because it is such a waste of talented youth who possess innovation and imagination.

Speaking of symbolism, I found this speech and thought how powerful and still relevant today. It was writing by Dr. Vernon Johns who I think was more radical than King (just my opinion, do not kill me). He gave this speech due to criticism of being out-spoken in the 1920s. This speech is something to think about and how brilliantly he uses symbolism from the bible to bring his point across. I hope you enjoy reading it. I apologize for the length of my blog comment.


Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Matthew 17:4.

Peter, James and John, who had already gone with the Master to the death bed in the house of Jairus, and would very soon come closer to his agony in Gethsemane than the other disciples, were now with him in “a place apart,” somewhere on the slopes of Hermon. Strange things were happening there: things difficult for people to believe until they have felt the unfathomed mystery of life, and learned that “there are more things in heaven and earth than we have dreamed of in our philosophy.” As the Divine man prayed that night, on the snow-capped moun­tain, with the weight of humanity’s sin and hu­manity’s hope upon his heart, his disciples beheld his body suddenly overcast with an unfamiliar luster. His pure soul had overflowed and clothed his figure with a wonderful radiance. His face shone as the sun, and his garments became glistening white such “as no fuller on earth could white them”: the glory of Jesus, already attested by a few fine and sensitive souls, was now apparent to the very eyes of men. And Moses and Elijah, venerable pioneers of law and prophecy, had come through the intervening mystery which separates the living from the dead, and were talking with Jesus, within sight and hearing of the disciples. Then a voice broke forth from a luminous cloud: “This is my beloved son: hear ye him!”

Any one acquainted with Simon Peter will not be surprised if he speaks now. He is the type of man who can be depended on to say what others must need think and feel, but dare not utter. He was a valu­able man to Jesus: a Rock, Foundation Man, for this very reason that he revealed his thoughts and made it possible for Jesus to give them direction. Bishop McConnell says that Peter asked many foolish ques­tions, but those questions brought from Jesus very wise answers. It would be difficult for us to sojourn with Simon and dodge sensitive questions: covering up grave issues that so nearly concern us, and trying to hide them from ourselves as though they did not exist. The blundering genius for expression, which was the virtue of Simon Peter, would save us from the folly of applying ostrich wisdom to vital prob­lems. If we had the courage to talk frankly concern­ing our problems, there would be less occasion to fight about them. In grave moral and social situa­tions where the spokesmen of Jesus, so called, keep dependably mute, Simon Peter would certainly have something to say or at least ask some embarrassing questions. Peter was a true disciple of the one who came to earth “That thoughts out of many hearts might be revealed.”

So on the Mount of Transfiguration, while experi­ence was rife, James reflected deeply, John thrilled with awe, and Peter spoke! Peter felt the tides run­ning high in his soul: and he said so; “Lord it is good for us to be here.” When Peter has a weighty idea or a generous impulse, it is likely to get expression. No matter what celebrities are present, no matter how delicate the situation, no matter if he breaks down short of the goal which he sets for himself: at least his Master may count on him to give honest expression to the best that he knows and feels. This is the man whom Jesus commissions to feed his sheep and lambs. This is the foundation man, on whose God-inspired utterance the Kingdom will be built against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. One of the biographers of Jesus felt it necessary to apologize for Peter’s speech during the Transfiguration. “He knew not what to say, for he was sore afraid.” There are always disciples, more cautious, but less valuable than Peter, who guard their words very zealously in tense situations, and for fear that they may say something indiscreet will almost certainly be silent. They talk most when there is but little need to say anything, and the topic of their conversation is not likely to be material which will spread fire in the earth or set a father against his son, or make a man’s enemies those of his own household. There are things “that Bab­bitt will not talk about.” No apology was really needed for what Peter said. Who can doubt that it was good to be there, high upon Hermon, in those Transfigured Moments! The experience was so rich and lasting that it went to record, many years later, in three of the Gospels and one New Testament epistle: and the glory which shone that night, in “a mountain place apart,” lingers after two thousand years on every continent and over every sea.

It is good to be the possessor of some mountain-top experience. Not to know life on the heights, is to suffer an impoverishing incompleteness. To be sure, there is better opportunity for practical pursuits in the valley regions, and life is easier and safer there: but views are possible from the mountain top which are not to be had in the vale. A missionary in the Balkans once took a small boy, who lived at the base of a mountain, on a journey up its side. When they gained the summit, the little climber looked this way and that, and then said with astonishment: “My! What a wonderful world! I never dreamed it was so large.” Horizons broaden when we stand on the heights. There is always the danger that we will make of life too much of a dead-level existence: that we will make of life a slavish following of the water courses; a monotonous tread of beaten paths; a mat­ter of absorbing, spiritless, deadening routine. There is the danger that we will drop our lives into the pass­ing current to be kept steadily going, we hardly know where or why. Crowded in the throngs that traverse the common ways, we proceed through life with much motion and little vision. The late President Wilson, in a wonderful essay, speaks of the man who allows his duties to rise about him like a flood. Such a man goes on through the years “swimming with sturdy stroke, his eyes level with the surface, never seeing any clouds or any passing ships.” We can pay such regular tribute to Motion that all valid sense of Direction is lost; so that all our hurrying activities may prove but the rush to ruin. In view of this, it is good for us, occasionally at least, to clamber up from the levels of our set habits of thought, our artificial actions and our settled prejudices to some loftier plane, which affords a more commanding view than we have from the crowded thoroughfares, the low familiar ways. From some mountain eminence let us have occasionally a quiet look upon life, to reflect what it means and whither it is carrying us. The luminaries of humanity were familiar with elevated ground. Moses, Elijah, Mohammed and Jesus all had mountain traditions. It is said by a well-known Old Testament interpreter that the religious history of the Hebrew people is inseparable from the topog­raphy of their country. The mountains round about Jerusalem are tied up with the vision of God and the vision of life, which Israel gave to mankind.

Who of all the contemporaries of Jesus, busy in market place, fields and thoroughfares, dreamed that the next great strides of history would take their direction from the vision of one who was praying in the midst of three unheralded fishermen, far above sea level and the level of life! So it was. So may it ever be. How many people in high and lofty mo­ments, when they have taken the time and pains to climb above the dingy, foggy levels of incorporated thinking and living, have struck out for themselves and others new and better courses! “I thought on my ways, and I turned my feet.…” “I will turn aside and see.…” “When he came to himself he said…” “And he taketh them up into an exceed­ing high mountain.” These passages belong to the experience of epoch makers. On the heights is the location for moral discovery. It is a slower process and requires stouter gear to do the mountain roads than to run along the shining speedways of the val­ley. But woe to the world when there are no visitors on the heights!

It is good to be present when the ordinary is trans­formed; when the dull plain garments of a peasant become shining white, and the obscure “mountain place, apart,” comes into the gaze of centuries. It is good to see the commonplace illumined and the glory of the common people revealed. On the Mount of Transfiguration there is no representative of wealth, social rank or official position. The place could boast in the way of population only four poor men, mem­bers of a despised race, and of the remnant of a sub­jected and broken nation. But it is here, instead of Jerusalem or Rome, that the voice of God is heard. It is here, instead of Mount Moriah, where the mighty temple stands, that the cloud of glory hovers. Out there where a carpenter and three fishermen kept vigil with the promise of a new day, God is a Living Reality and life is charged with meaning and radi­ance. Out there in a deserted place, the meek and lowly is enhaloed.

There is no recounting the instances where the things that are excellent have blossomed in unex­pected places. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.” A man who is not prophet, neither a prophet’s son, is called by the Lord from following the sheep, to prophesy to the House of Israel. In the heyday of Egyptian civilization, God visits the wilderness of Midian and commissions a shepherd for the most significant work of the age. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Herod tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene; in the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” “Who is this man that is answering Douglass in your state?” wrote a prominent statesman of the East, to the editor of a Chicago paper, concerning the unheralded Lincoln. “Do you realize that his knowledge of the most im­portant question before the American people is com­plete and profound; that his logic is unanswerable and his style inimitable?” It is the illumination of the commonplace, the transfiguring of the ordinary, the glistening radiance of a peasant’s seamless robe!

There are two ways in which this transfiguring of the ordinary is specially needed. The lowly ones of earth need to experience this transformation. The great majority of our lives must be lived apart from any elaborate or jeweled settings; must plod along without any spectacular achievements. We ordinary people, then, must learn how to set the scraggy bushes of the wilderness ablaze with glory and make the paths that we tread, under the pressure of duty, like Holy ground! In the humblest routine, we must dis­cover our task as a part of the transforming enter­prise of the Heavenly Father. The laborer that toils on a country road must know himself as the builder of a highway to a Christian civilization. The cobbler may be a mere cobbler, or he may transform his occu­pation and be a foundation man in the Kingdom of Christ. Make tents if we must, but we will illumine the old task with a radiant new heart, and, with our tent making, make a shining new earth. If toil be confined to the same old fields, keep a land of promise shining in the distance and call down angels to sing until the drab turns golden. “My garden is very small,” said an old German, “but it’s wondrous high.” Let us light up the commonplace and make the ordi­nary radiant. Let us make seamless peasant gar­ments shine like the sun.

Again, those who think themselves the favored ones of earth need a transforming vision of life among the lowly. There is no warrant in the theory and prac­tice of Jesus for dull and frigid doctrines of “lesser breeds without the law.” If the life of Jesus means anything, it means implicit faith in the universal capacity of man for the highest character and worth. To this end, the doors to the kingdom of the Best are to be thrown open to all the points of the compass that men may “come from the North and the South, the East and the West to sit down with Abraham and Isaac, in the Kingdom of God.” A low theory, a despicable view of a given group must usually be thrown ahead like a barrage before we can follow with the outrage and mistreatment of that group. We make them hydra-headed in theory so that we may be inhuman in our practices toward them. The validity of such judgment crops out unawares at times, as when masters avow their slaves’ inability to learn and at the same time penalize them if caught with a book. Humanity that has climbed to places of social and economic authority must learn how to trace the rainbow tint over the life of the lowly, and to inter­pret the swelling and ferment at the bottom of society as a healthy and beautiful essay of one’s fel­low men in the direction of fuller life. It is a heart strangely unchristlike that cannot thrill with Joy when the least of the children of men begin to pull in the direction of the stars.

It is good to be in the presence of persons who can kindle us for fine, heroic living. The population on the Mount of Transfiguration was very small, but it was tremendously significant. Jesus, Moses and Elijah! In the presence of personality like this, men can kindle their torches and go forth in life as bearers of light and heat. Humanity needs the contagion of lofty spirits. Humanity needs contact with persons who are aglow with the good life. All too frequently our righteousness is sufficiently meager to go to waste: it is not vital enough to communicate itself. Mr. Roosevelt’s criticism of his Progressive party was that it meant well, but meant it feebly. That is often the trouble with our righteousness. It lacks intensity. It does not make itself felt. We are trying to grind great mills with a quart of water; we would set great masses of cold and slimy material aglow with a wet match. We have our hands full of halfway meas­ures. We scrap a part of our navies. We enthrone Justice in places where there is no serious objection to it. We practice brotherhood within carefully re­stricted areas. We forgive other people’s enemies. We carry a Bible but not a cross. Instead of the Sec­ond Mile, we go a few yards of the first and then wonder that Christian goals are not realized. “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” When we lift ourselves, at last, from the ruin and entanglements of our diluted and piece­meal righteousness, it will be under the leadership of persons for whom righteousness was a consuming and holy fire, instead of a mere luke-warm and foggy something. It is such leadership, such righteous dynamics as this that we find in the presence of Jesus and Moses and Elijah. “We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And of his fulness we have all received.” You can kindle at a flame like that! It is the full receptacle that overflows, spreading its content to neighboring borders. It is a flame vital enough not to be extinguished by a slight jostle at which men can kindle. “I have come to set a fire in the earth.”

We need power for renunciation. In the service of social progress, justice and brotherhood there are views and possessions of which one must have power to let go. Nothing short of Power will work the transformation. But we are apt to hang on to our self-love, our vantage points, our place with the strong, our purpose of self-advancement. And we get no strength for the demands laid on us from the weaklings on our level. But here on the mountain top is personality in which the power of renunciation rises to white heat! “By faith, Moses when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer afflic­tion with the people of God than to enjoy the pleas­ures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt.” When this ancient Hero exchanged a princely exist­ence at court for exile in Midian, and defied the oppressor in the interest of the oppressed, he lighted a flame at which humanity through thousands of years has kindled power for heroic renunciation. It is good to sit in the presence of Moses if one is to live the life of heroic self-denial.

And there is a power on the Mount of Transfigura­tion which kindles tongues and sends them forth in evil times for the service of justice. Ahab the king has lifted his bloody hand against a weak subject. He has killed Naboth and taken his patch of land to fill out a nook in one of the royal estates. It is a dastardly act, but Naboth is weak and Ahab mighty, so the voices of justice are not heard. Tyranny broods restfully over the face of the nation. Murder and robbery issue from the very seat of law; and all is well. Thank God, here comes a loud, clear note of discord in the evil harmony! Ahab has gone down to his ill-gotten vineyard and Elijah meets him there. No one can stand with Elijah in that garden without feeling the thrill of manhood: it is a fine place to kindle holy courage. Mighty is Ahab in Israel, but mighty also is Elijah in the service of truth. The Tisbite, in his camel’s hair, rubs against the purple of a king mighty in war and peace. He does not wait for royal permission. One listening to that conversa­tion, without seeing the participants, would have mis­taken peasant for king and king for peasant. “Hast thou killed and also taken possession?” “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” “And Elijah answered, I have found thee; and thus saith the Lord, in the spot where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood.” The courage of Elijah is a glowing flame at which humanity has kindled power to shake the foundations of a thousand despotisms! And how Jesus could kindle people for courageous, loving and lofty living! Here is Zacchæus hovering at zero! His malady is not emotional, passionate weakness, but cold-blooded guile. He is a profes­sional trader in the political misfortunes of his own nation. His business is to sell the helplessness of his own race to the Roman overlord, and he has made the business pay. With Zacchæus, “business is busi­ness.” The trouble with Zacchæus is, that he has never been shown a pattern of Selflessness as large as his own selfishness. There have been little sputters of righteousness here and there, but nothing dramatic in that line. Zacchæus feels some serious lack in connection with his own life and method, but he has never seen character the opposite of his own that was sufficiently large or radiant to be attractive. In the flaming proximity of Jesus the lost son of Israel finds himself. His frigidity thaws up: a new-found sense of justice and generosity blazes out: “Half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man by false accusation, I will restore unto him fourfold.” At the flaming soul of Jesus, the frigid soul of Zacchæus is set aglow.

Here is a woman who is the victim of a great primal emotion. Her name has dishonorable associations; her self-respect is buried deep beneath the ashes of excess. Each day finds her more shameless and deeper lost; each person passing throws a few more ashes upon the tiny spark of virtue left amid the embers. A lustful suggestion from this man, a con­temptuous look from that woman, and the dim linger­ing vision of something wholesome and pure fades rapidly toward extinction. But Jesus comes along! In the atmosphere about him every slumbering im­pulse of love and purity begins to quicken. He dis­covers the faint spark in the ashes and embers and warms it to life. He is so pure himself that this poor woman, sunk to the depths, feels the contagion of his character pulling her toward the stars. A touch of shame mounts the throne in her cheek where a cal­loused indifference had sat: it turns to penitence and then to hope. “Can I become a worthy person in spite of all that is?” her heart is asking the Master. And the Master, who understands the language of hearts and listens for it, answers: “Verily, I say unto you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the earth, your name and character shall attend it like the fragrance of precious ointment.” Again, the strength of a Personality, radiant with truth and love, had lifted a life from shame to sainthood.

Jesus kindled the consciousness of human brother­hood in the most self-conscious and provincial of all races. His character was so dramatically free from all class and national and racial hatreds and preju­dices that no follower could long mistake him. To mistake him would have been to cease following! “There is no difference between Jew and Greek, Bar­barian, Scythian, bond or free, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation they that fear God and work righteousness are acceptable with him.” “Out of one blood hath God created all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth.” This is the lan­guage of men who had kindled their lives at the feet of Jesus for the wise and noble adventure in human brotherhood.

It is good to be present when the great, distant peaks of history join hands to point the way of life: when seers, standing in different ages and places, one on Sinai another on Carmel and another on Olivet come together to speak to us out of the wisdom of the ages concerning the way and the meaning of life. All this is the privilege of those who frequent the heights! Up there we can read history with our eyes instead of our prejudices. Up there we do not hear the clamor of time-servers and self-servers: and as we look down from the heights, it is too far to descry the hue of faces or the peculiarity of skulls, all we can see is the forms of men, toiling or contending in the val­leys: swayed by the same hopes and fears, the same joys and sorrows. The whole creation groaning in travail and pain together and waiting for deliver­ance; one in need, one in destiny. “If drunk with sight of Power” we incline to boastings and vaunt­ings, the seers on the heights say to us out of the wealth of the ages: “Not by might; not by power; but by My Spirit saith the Lord.” And they have wide inductions from the débris of many civilizations as warrant for the utterance. On the heights, too, there is hope for the world! Too often, history strikes us as a medley of blind and futile ramblings. “A tale told by an idiot amid great sound and fury, signifying nothing.” “The drift of the Maker is dark.”

Into this Universe and why not knowing;
Nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing
And out of it, like wind along the waste
I go, I know not whither! willy-nilly blowing.

But on the mountain top, perspective is possible; above the confusion of the plains, the visitant beholds Moses in one age, Elijah in another, Jesus, Luther and Lincoln, each in another; all joining hands across the Ages and moving humanity in the direction of that “one far off, divine event to which the whole creation moves.” “It is good for us to be here.”

Anonymous said...

Thanks, hennasplace, it's a message for the ages. said...

i think that, because black people (not just american, but the entire diaspora) have been oppressed so long and with such complexity, we hesitate to believe in the possibilties of each other when presented with the opportunities to do so. we have to know ourselves as a wounded people; wounded so that we are slow to trust and hope and display faith because in our past that has only opened us up to be wounded over and over again. i was not gung-ho on barack at first either. i am, like most of us, (to the surprise of the mainstream media machine) too intelligent to vote for someone just because they are black. actually, i like(d) kucinich. however, because he was so radical and not filthy rich, his positions on many issues did not get the publicity for him to even be considered viable by the greater public. i guess what i am saying is...we demand the structure of the current system be dismantled, but we don't demand that to the extent that we will give up our homes, jobs, comforts or lives to go and get it. the system will not change on its own because we think it is time for it to do so. it is too well oiled a machine just to stop working without a major disruption in the mechanics. insert barack here. he is something very different. a black presidential candidate demanding respect and being taken seriously as a contender. this is something that i have never seen in my life--or even thought i would see (im 28). he has made significant strides up until now. so, until he proves that he is unworthy of the support of black people--which he has yet to do--how wonderfully different would it be for us to support him as a collective. no one person will be able to destroy this political monster by him or her self anyway, and it seems that we have not the ability nor the intentions of doing so collectively; judging by all of the unrebutted, blatantly brutal slaps in the face that we have received as a people by the hand of 'modern' america in the last eight years. so as long as we are silently agreeing to allow the structure itself to stay 'as is', why not be supportive of barack and allow im to be the obvious catalyst that he is, rather than testing him out as the knight who has come to slay the dragon. because if we really wanted the monster dead, we would have killed it's ass a long time ago.

JJ said...

Hmmm...the article would be right on if Obama were the candidate at the time of MLK when there was a significant amount of oppression going on. And this thinking most certainly echoes the vein of Paulo Freire and the political/social agents oppression theory of the time.

First, I would like to say that we have advanced far beyond the times of MLK Jr. I do not believe that Obama is merely running as a "token black candidate."

I'm not disagreeing that tokenism does not exist- it still is very much in existence today. However, I do very much disagree with the notion that tokenism does not advance the race. In fact, though just a figure head at first...the very symbol of the oppressed being able to reach such a high level can free an entire race from its oppression and give that race hope and visual motivation to make it a real position.